A Labour/Green electoral pact would do more harm than good
Dan Johnston argues that a Labour/Green electoral pact would do more harm than good to the Green Party, Labour and the left as a whole.
Recently the Telegraph published a piece saying that Jeremy Corbyn could protect Caroline Lucas in an electoral pact with the Greens in 2020. The article is full of bluster and speculation, and is frankly a transparent attempt by a pro-Conservative newspaper to belittle the election strategy of both Labour and the Green Party before the next election. However, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has stated on a number of occasions that she is keen to build a progressive alliance based on electoral pacts at the next election, and the Green Party has been debating this tactic for a long time. The prospect of perpetually locking the Conservatives out of power with a left-wing coalition is tantalising, but in practice there are too many flaws with the idea of an electoral pact in 2020.
1) Not All People Think Of Parties As “Left” or “Right”
The idea behind a Labour/Green electoral pact is that “Lefties” will stick together, and if the two parties agree not to stand against each other then voters will choose whichever one of the two parties is standing in their constituency. This idea was spread by bitter Labourites and gloating Conservatives in a variety of articles just after the 2015 General Election, claiming that Green voters had awarded the Conservatives their majority. The problem with this is that many voters don’t think in terms of “left” or “right” at all, and some don’t even choose who they’re going to vote for until they’re standing in the booth in front of their voting slip.
If a Labour voter in Brighton Pavilion enters the voting booth in 2020 faced with a choice between only the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, there is absolutely no guarantee they’ll vote for the Greens. The same goes for any other seat Labour might feasibly concede to the Greens in a pact, like Bristol West or Sheffield Central. In fact, knowing that the likely outcome of an election is either a Conservative or Labour government, many people just pick between the two. Without Labour on the ballot paper, swing voters could default to the Conservatives.
In the reverse situation, where the Greens stand down in seats Labour could win, there is no guarantee that Green Voters could tip the balance. Many Greens are anti-establishment protest voters, ex-Liberal Democrats and even some ex-Conservatives. There are no guarantees, no accurate statistics, that suggest “Lefty” electoral pacts will win seats.
2) Exchanging Votes, Candidates and Memberships Reduces Plurality
The Green Party is pro-democracy, pro-freedom of choice and pro-proportional representation. Removing our name from ballot papers, or asking Labour to remove theirs, denies constituents across the country their freedom of choice. How could we, the Green Party, stand up for free votes while asking the electorate to compromise their principles for a long shot at left wing coalition?
Electoral pacts also tend to mix memberships and drag parties’ policies closer together. The Co-operative party is based on the fundamentally left-wing idea of mass public ownership of companies (as co-operatives). People working in co-operation to benefit society as whole – that certainly sounds like a socialist idea to me. Yet the Co-operative party is locked into a constitutional pact with Labour, where they must stand as “Labour Co-operative” candidates in elections, and are expected by convention to obey the Labour whip in the house of commons. For two decades now, since the birth of Tony Blair’s “New Labour”, the Co-operative party have been dragged to the right by their written association with a Thatcherite political party. While Corbyn’s principles seem to fit neatly with the Green agenda, there is a danger that electoral pacts could start to influence individual party policy.
3) Labour Has Nothing To Offer The Greens Except Danger
The Green Party are perfectly capable of winning seats on their own, and took Brighton Pavilion by a massive majority of 14.6% (7,967 votes). Labour has no reason to offer the Green Party any other concessions across the country, and indeed the only movement we’ve seen so far from Corbyn is that he may or may not protect Caroline Lucas’ seat in 2020. Ultimately what we could end up with is a very one-sided pact where Labour agrees to let us stand alone in Brighton Pavilion, a seat we have already won twice in a row, while the Greens agree to stand down in hundreds of marginal seats across the country where we are supposedly draining Labour votes. It hardly sounds like a fair exchange, even if you believe it will lead to left-wing government.
A greater danger is that Labour standing down in Brighton Pavilion could lead the Conservatives to victory there. The Tories came third place in Brighton Pavilion in 2015 with 22.8% of the vote. UKIP took 5% and Labour took 27.3%. It’s perfectly feasible that swing voters from Labour and UKIP could vote tactically to block out the Greens if they don’t have a Labour candidate on their voting slip at the next election.
A pact also weakens the image of both Labour and the Greens in the media spotlight. While the desire for electoral pacts is a horrible, horrible quirk of our FPTP voting system, the pro-Conservative press are bound to spin a Labour/Green pact as a sign of weakness from both of our parties. A left-wing government won by fiddling with seats could foster resentment from voters.
4) Tactical Decisions Aren’t Reliant On Written Agreements
We don’t need to have an official pact with Labour, or any other party, to deliver election victory in 2020. While an unspoken agreement may not allow us to demand that a Labour government implement some key policies for us, we can still lock out the pro-austerity Conservatives and deliver a Labour government without weakening our own party image.
In constituencies where we know we definitely can’t win, we can make our own decision to divert campaign resources to other more important constituencies. We don’t need a contract with Corbyn looming over our heads to make decisions about which seats we will and will not stand in. Green supporters who know how to vote tactically, and have the will to do so, can do that without party leadership telling them to do it.
2020 is a long way off, we have plenty of time to make decisions on our election strategy. Let’s not rush into something we may regret when the polls close in four years’ time.
This article was originally published on Dan Johnston’s personal blog here.